Moving on from a bad career decision
It all seemed perfect. Great sounding profile, good and transparent interview, a boss you thought you could get on with and excellent career progression. Or maybe it was an internal re-assignment to a new division or department, that seemed to offer exciting challenges and which carried that long over-due pay increase you had been waiting for. But little by little you have a dawning realisation that you’ve probably made a bad career decision.
Andrea struggled with a new job for over 9 months. She was the first external hire in 10 years and had been recruited to deal with the creation of strategic policy for an international organisation. She found when she got there that the managerial style was “patrol and control” and she had very little freedom and discretion.
There was no formal onboarding process. She made a few mistakes and had projects taken from her. She became stressed. Her colleagues reported her testiness to her boss who suggested she needed to control her emotions. Each month she found herself in increasingly difficult circumstances, cut out of key meetings and discussions, now doing low-level operational work. Her reports started to bypass her and went straight to the boss.
She felt she was losing the respect of her peers and colleagues. She found herself with pre-burnout symptoms and went on sick leave. Eventually she negotiated a severance package, including a period of garden leave. She only felt relief. There was no doubt she had made a bad career decision, one of the worst in her life.
8 tells you’ve made a bad career decision
When any of us moves into a new job or accepts a new assignment, there is always an onboarding period where it is normal to feel out of our comfort zones. We all experience an adrenalin spike because we are dealing with something new or challenging. This is what spurs us on to greater performance and gets us to where we need to be. That is quite typical and nothing to worry about.
But there is a tipping point when excitement becomes stress and that can take you into a danger zone. That is the pivotal point when you have to examine if you have made a bad career decision.
1. Role not as described
It entirely possible that the role may not turn out as described.The responsibilities could be different to how you anticipated them or they may have changed totally.The empathetic boss has moved on or turned into a nightmare on legs. There are mergers, takeovers ,organisational changes and restructurings that can have massive impact on a role and job content. It can all happen. It is not your fault.
Pia a senior Commercial Manager interviewed for an MD position only to find when she started,the CEO had given in his notice and was leaving immediately. This meant she had to report directly to the Chairman based in another country, which was not what she had signed up for.
After less than a year she decided to move on. “Without that intermediary layer I didn’t have the support I needed. Although the previous CEO told me he would mentor me during the onboarding process, he had left the company so wasn’t invested to the same degree. It was disappointing. I lasted a year and then needed to move on.”
You are starting to feel anxious. If there is any part of your working day which causes you stress or anxiety that could be a problem. If you take that anxiety home with you, start to monitor and become mindful of the triggers.
3. Under performance
Making errors and mistakes over and above the mistakes a newbie usually makes. This will probably add to your stress and anxiety levels and impact your confidence.
4. Feeling isolated
You may feel confused and isolated and unwilling to share with anyone that you are floundering and experiencing specific difficulties. You don’t want to look incompetent or inexperienced.
Maxime started a new job in an energy company and had over estimated her skills and under estimated the level of support she would need. She tried to hide this from her supervisor and took online courses in her own time to fill the gap. This increased her sense of isolation, added to the number of errors which impacted her confidence, all leading to a build-up of stress.
“With hindsight I thought I could fake it ’til I made it. My boss went on maternity leave and there was no one really to onboard me. Even though I improved my skills privately through online courses, the company has a policy of remote working which I thought sounded great. That was actually a key attraction for me, but it meant that there was no one at the next desk to ask even basic questions. I found that I didn’t enjoy the work that much anyway and I’ve started looking for a new job”
5. Communication or conflict issues
Perhaps you are short-tempered with colleagues or feel excluded from key discussions and information sharing. Maybe your private relationships are impacted as you snap at family members or retreat into yourself. This can impact the way you give instructions and receive feedback.
6. Health issues
If your appetite is impacted and you are over eating or under eating that is a cause for concern. You might have difficulty sleeping. Perhaps you are self-medicating. Take a note of any changes that you feel you are going through.
Magdalena fell back on her smoking habit after a 10 year break, two months into her role in as a Regional Corporate Responsibility Manager with a pharmaceutical company. “I am working very long hours, I am not able to exercise properly and eat at my desk every day. I’ve gained 5 kilos in 5 months, so my clothes don’t sit well. I didn’t really know what I was doing and the onboarding process was via an eLearning platform which I hated. I felt very isolated.
There is an email and meeting culture which are massive time eaters and make it difficult to move forward. I’m struggling to find allies and office politics is rife. I have good support from the HR Director, but I don’t know if this is a bad career decision and this job will not be right for me long term or it’s a poor transition. In my head I’m giving it a year.”
You might find your job less exciting than described. You might be bored and find the days dragging and can’t wait to leave the office.
Morgan was so under-utilised in her role in a co-working company she left after two months. “I don’t think they needed someone full time.The previous job holder was fired for poor timekeeping, but the reality is that he probably didn’t need to be there 8 hours a day. The workload could have been dealt with in another way. It was definitely a leadership issue. When I raised the problem I was viewed as a “jumped-up Millennial” by my boss who had over 20 years service! Sometimes you have to deal with the fact you made a bad career decision and have to move on.”
8. You dread going to work
If the idea of getting out of bed and going to work has become part of your life then you have definitely made a bad career decision. Andrea had reached the point where the thought of her job brought on acute anxiety and she sought a medical and coaching support.
6 steps to deal with a bad career decision
1. Be proactive
When you realise you may have made a bad decision you have to become proactive to change your circumstances. Examine what can be modified or enhanced rather than get sucked into a situation which could lead to depression or other health issues. Can you ask for training, a mentor or even a transfer. There can be situations where it’s best to be up front. Most empathetic and vigilant bosses will be aware that something isn’t right anyway.
2. Cut yourself some slack
The first step to take when you think you have made a bad career decision is to examine how you got where you are. Very often situations occur which are outside your control. This can be the person who hired you moving on, or an unexpected re-organisation. There is nothing you could have done about those situations, so all you can do is take steps to move on.
It is also important to look back and think hard if you missed any tell-tale signs en route. Very often it is easy to overlook major clues in the hiring process because you were so excited about certain elements of the job, especially if on the surface the benefits looked great. It’s important you do this thoroughly to stop it happening again.
Andrea recounted “As the first external hire in 10 years I should have asked for a mentor and a formal onboarding process. I never had any real clear KPIs and struggled to understand how my boss would measure my success. I made a lot of mistakes in the hiring process”.
Use these Free Downloadable Career Reflection Worksheets to create a career strategy and plan.
4. Exploring alternatives internally
There might be simple solutions to some of the pain points which your manager can easily accommodate.The cost of a hire is estimated at 3 x annual salary so normally the hiring manager will want to find some way to make things work. You could also discuss with HR or ask for a mentor to help you through some of the challenges. Only you will know if other options are a possibility.
5. Start a discreet job search
If you draw blanks on internal solutions, start looking discreetly for other opportunities. Whether to come clean and let your boss or anyone else know you are embarking down this route is your call. You have to live in the village. I have known situations where organisations have fired the person who has expressed doubts and concerns.
Here is our super helpful Job Search Planning Template
6. Prepare narrative
You will also need to prepare a narrative to share with potential employers during the interview process, why you stayed such a short time in a role. This is harder to do if it you were a new external hire who stayed a short time. Focus on what you are looking for, rather than what went wrong. If the person who hired you left then that is quite straightforward. If the job wasn’t a full-time role and you were bored that is also understandable. Make the explanation short and factual without assigning blame.
Reduce the possibility of a bad career decision
As we have seen you can’t foresee every bad career decision. Things happen. But what you can do is take some steps to reduce the risk:
1. Research, research, research
Make sure your research is thorough. Check online social proofing sites and look for patterns in the comments. Talk to contacts in your network and ask for informational interview with people in the company. Ask open-ended questions about a typical day and how they feel about the company and its future. Don’t ask “Is it a good place to work?” the person will almost certainly say yes. Saying anything less than that openly, is a red flag which should be at least noted, but preferably explored. Inquire about the hours worked, number of meetings, level of supervision and support and career development opportunities. Investigate the culture and the way they communicate with each other.
2. Mindful interviewing
Be prepared with penetrative questions about the role, the hiring manager’s expectations and how the organisation works.This involves communication preferences, how they company measure success and what onboarding support they will give you. If they say they are a collegiate company and team focused – what does that mean in real terms? Do they talk about “self-starting,” “throwing you in at the deep end” or “learning on the job?” What is that exactly?
If there is no onboarding support that could also be a red flag. How will you acquire the necessary knowledge to be successful? If the response is eLearning and you are on your own – how well does that work for you? It did not suit Magdalena and added to feelings of isolation. Others are happy with the independence and freedom to self-schedule the knowledge transfer.
But also note what isn’t said. Sometimes some of the job advert language is a euphemism. Exciting plans in the pipeline could mean they have absolutely no clue what will happen next week let alone next year. Observe the surroundings when you are taken to the offices.Is it noisy or quiet? Request a visit to the offices before you accept an offer and if possible to talk to some of the team. Obviously if there is any part of the hiring process that strikes the wrong note, lengthy process, any hire-zillas or slow communication these are all indications that the job might not be right for you.
But whatever the outcome make sure that the whole experience is part of your learning curve. The most important thing is that it doesn’t happen too many times or even a second time.
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